In Baghdad, Hemlines Rise As Violence Falls At the height of Iraq's sectarian violence, being covered up in public was a matter of life and death for women. The dangers from Islamist fanatics were too great for women to dare to go without a headscarf or wear tight jeans or a short skirt. But times are changing in some parts of Baghdad. Some say it is a sign of greater freedom and security.
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In Baghdad, Hemlines Rise As Violence Falls

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In Baghdad, Hemlines Rise As Violence Falls

In Baghdad, Hemlines Rise As Violence Falls

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MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

NPR's Corey Flintoff reports from Baghdad.

(SOUNDBITE OF SHOP)

COREY FLINTOFF: This is the shop of Ali Mohammed, a 25-year-old entrepreneur who boasts that his line is for the modern Iraqi woman, not what he deprecatingly calls classic designs for classic ladies.

ALI MOHAMMED: (Foreign language spoken)

FLINTOFF: Most of his customers, Ali says, are young women, many of them college students. Ever since the 2003 invasion, the classic design for Baghdad ladies - at least on the street - has been hijab, the Islamic expression of modesty that requires a woman to cover her shape and her hair.

(SOUNDBITE OF RUSTLING PAPER)

FLINTOFF: Even if an Iraqi woman had a little black dress, it would've been covered by a big, black abaya, the billowing garment that shrouds a woman from head to foot. At the height of Iraq's sectarian violence, being covered up was a matter of life and death.

MOHAMMED: (Foreign language spoken)

FLINTOFF: Ali says it was common to hear of women being kidnapped and killed for not wearing hijab, and his customers were scared. In fact, it's still the case that far more Baghdad women at least wear a headscarf on the streets rather than show their hair. But at social venues, the times are changing.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

FLINTOFF: This is the Baghdad Hunt Club, in what foreign correspondents never fail to describe as the trendy or upscale Mansour district. The occasion is the Miss Hunt Club pageant and a big crowd is cheering on more than a dozen contestants, only one of whom is wearing a headscarf. Most of the others are wearing the sorts of clothing that Ali Mohammed sells in his shop - outfits in varying degrees of snugness and hemlines in the higher latitudes. Some are propped on stiletto heels that would topple a runway model in Milan.

SAMAA SAMEER: (Foreign language spoken)

FLINTOFF: Eighteen-year-old Samaa Sameer was eliminated before the final round, but she says the pageant was a good way to show her confidence. Her mother, who wears a headscarf, is seated nearby beaming.

SAMEER: (Foreign language spoken)

FLINTOFF: Unidentified Woman: (Foreign language spoken)

(SOUNDBITE OF PAGEANT)

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

FLINTOFF: The tiara goes to Yasameen Kanaan, a high school senior who's wearing low-waisted jeans.

(SOUNDBITE OF DRYER)

FLINTOFF: Under the dryers at Rana Mohammed hair salon, women read fashion magazines and discuss trends.

RANA MOHAMMED: (Foreign language spoken)

FLINTOFF: The 25-year-old proprietor says she was forced to wear hijab for years, because the danger from Islamist fanatics was just too great. But she says it's really not about fashion, but freedom.

MOHAMMED: (Foreign language spoken)

FLINTOFF: Unidentified Group: (Foreign language spoken)

(SOUNDBITE OF STORE)

FLINTOFF: For the customers at Ali Mohammed's clothing store, the choice is clear.

MOHAMMED: (Foreign language spoken)

FLINTOFF: Corey Flintoff, NPR News, Baghdad.

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